Goodbye to Newsweek

Much attention has been paid to the decline of print newspapers, less to the similar decline of news magazines. The cases are not identical: most obviously, the news weeklies never depended on classified advertising, as newspapers did. But the flight of readers to the internet and the loss of readers due to a decline in journalistic integrity bedevil the news weeklies much as they do the daily newspapers.

Today Mark Hemingway noted that Newsweek has “come out of the closet” as a magazine with a liberal agenda. The subject is gay marriage:

The cover story in this week’s Newsweek, which makes “the religious case for gay marriage,” has come under fire from a large swath of the religious community. …

Of course, religious Americans are more than used to shoddy coverage of theological debates. So what else is new? Criticism that a Newsweek cover story serves a left-of-center political worldview is almost, well, a weekly occurrence.

What is remarkable about this week’s cover story was how Newsweek‘s editor, Jon Meacham, has handled the backlash. He hasn’t defended the piece as a matter of opinion or part of a public debate. Rather, Newsweek has apparently come out of the closet as an explicitly ideological magazine editorially endorsing the article’s viewpoint.

In Meacham’s editor’s note in this week’s issue, he defends the cover story, fully cognizant of the fact that his general-interest magazine has staked out a clear theological and political position. This would seem to run counter to the supposedly objective standards of a news magazine.

Meacham’s tirade is ignorant; he writes that “Christians . . . long cited scriptural authority to justify and perpetuate slavery” without noting that it was precisely Bible-quoting Christians who, aided by Bible-quoting Jews, first opposed slavery on religious grounds after millenia of world-wide acceptance, and ultimately stamped out the practice. (With no help from atheists or Muslims, but that’s another story.) Meacham adds the weird assertion that “to argue that something is so because it is in the Bible is … unworthy of the great Judeo-Christian tradition.” Huh?

Hemingway adds:

Meacham self-righteously refuses to admit that there’s even a place at the table for a religious (or, Heaven forbid, secular) voice opposing gay marriage: “Religious conservatives will say that the liberal media are once again seeking to impose their values (or their ‘agenda,’ a favorite term to describe the views of those who disagree with you) on a God-fearing nation. Let the letters and e-mails come. History and demographics are on the side of those who favor inclusion over exclusion.”

So Newsweek is officially liberal.

Coincidentally, perhaps, it was also reported today that Newsweek is contemplating a new business strategy that involves accepting a reduced level of circulation:

Facing increased costs of postage and maintaining its circulation, Newsweek has been quietly considering a drop its circulation guarantee by a million copies or more, FOLIO: has learned.

Executives at Newsweek began discussing a rate base rollback as early as this summer, according to a pair of sources familiar with these discussions.

Both sources say that the magazine is considering slashing up to 1.6 million copies from Newsweek’s current rate base of 2.6 million, which would put the magazine’s rate base at 1 million.

Newsweek declined to comment.

Drastically reducing the circulation guarantee that the magazine makes to its advertisers will significantly reduce ad revenue. To some extent, of course, Newsweek is just recognizing reality:

Another concern is Newsweek’s newsstand sales (“a good barometer of reader demand,” Davis said) which have fallen to 83,000 from 147,000 in 2004, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Of course, paying attention to “reader demand” is beneath our liberal journalists. Newsweek‘s managers are ready to see falling circulation as a virtue:

Aside from the cost of maintaining such a high circulation, Newsweek would like to transition from newsmagazine to “thought leader,” something more akin to the Economist. “[Editor Jon] Meacham and [Time editorial director Richard] Stengel are both infatuated with the Economist,” the source said. “To get that ‘thought leader’ position, a million is the sweet spot.” The Economist’s rate base in North America is 714,000.

Being a “thought leader”–i.e., an explicitly liberal journal of opinion–is much easier, for journalists, than getting their facts right and reporting objectively on the news. Watch for Newsweek‘s circulation to move toward convergence with that of The Nation.

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